It’s hard to pick a favorite Cloris Leachman performance. Wacky Phyllis in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? The lonely housewife in The Last Picture Show? Both excellent and career-making on their own. Indeed her Last Picture Show role won her an Academy Award. But we keep coming back to Frau Blücher, the housekeeper in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein who is so creepy horses shiver at her name.
Comedy is hard, but Leachman, who we lost this week at the age of 94, was so skilled an actress and comic that she could crack us up just as easily as she could move us by showing us a character’s heart. And she kept doing both until the end. In 2019, she had a recurring role on the revival of the series Mad About You, and last year she had several films in production. When she was 82, she was the oldest contestant to take part in Dancing With the Stars.
“They are going to have to take a lead pipe and beat me over the head with it to get me to stop,” she told an interviewer in 2011. We’re glad she went on her own terms, and non-violently.
The Genius of Frau Blücher
“Such sad news—Cloris was insanely talented. She could make you laugh or cry at the drop of a hat,” Mel Brooks wrote at the news of her passing. “Always such a pleasure to have on set. Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed.”
As Frau, she delivered comedy with the stiffest, scariest face. That’s true brilliance.
As Frau, she delivered comedy with the stiffest, scariest face. That’s true brilliance. Of all her classic scenes in the black-and-white monster comedy, one moment in particular that cracked up co-star Gene Wilder through several takes, The Hollywood Reporter notes. Wilder reportedly often broke out laughing before she even delivered the line. The scene was when Frau advises Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein to stay close to the light while they are on the steep staircase—the gag being that the candelabra she is holding is not lit.
“As I turned to Gene, he’d be laughing, his face was in two pieces laughing,” she said in an earlier interview. “We did about 15 takes. I hear him laughing, and I have not said anything. I just tickled him to pieces.”
Yes, she tickled us to pieces too. And now as we think about her passing, we’re in pieces in another way, mourning her beauty and talent and thinking of her family. RIP Cloris Leachman.